U.S.-Made Mess in Somalia
By Ivan Eland
News" -- - - The media often report overseas
developments, but don’t always explore their underlying causes,
which, in many cases, conveniently lets the U.S. government off
the hook. The recent internecine violence in Somalia provides a
The U.S. media have focused to date almost
exclusively on the rising Islamist movement in Somalia and U.S.
“covert” assistance to the Ethiopian invasion that supported
Somalia’s transitional government against the stronger
Islamists. The media should be focusing on one of the major
causes of the Somali mess: U.S. government meddling.
After 9/11, the Bush administration feared that the absence of a
strong government in the “failed state” of Somalia could turn
the small east–African country—slightly smaller than Texas—into
a haven for terrorists.
The administration ignored the fact that other states with weak
governments have not become sanctuaries for terrorists. Even if
Somalia had become a terrorist enclave, the terrorists, absent
some U.S. provocation, probably would not have attacked the
faraway United States.
As a result of the administration’s unfounded fear, the United
States began supporting unpopular warlords in the strife-torn
nation. That’s when the real trouble began.
The radical Islamists in Somalia never had much following until
the Somali people became aware that an outside power was
supporting the corrupt and thuggish military chieftains. The
popularity of the Islamist movement then surged, allowing the
Islamists to take over much of the country.
In sum, where no problem with radical Islamists previously
existed, the U.S. government helped create one.
In many respects, the Somali episode is a replay of other
horribly counterproductive past U.S. interventions. In the
1980s, for example, the U.S. government supported the radical
Islamist Mujahadeen—then fighting the non–Muslim Soviet
occupiers in Muslim Afghanistan—that metamorphosed into al
Qaeda, which is now attacking the United States for its
non–Muslim military presence in the Persian Gulf.
History followed a similar pattern in Iraq. The Bush
administration justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq in part by al
Qaeda’s alleged link to Saddam Hussein—a thug, to be sure, but
one who had been wise enough, in reality, to support groups who
didn’t focus their attacks on the United States. Now, in Iraq,
where there were no anti–U.S. Islamic terrorists before, we have
plenty to fight.
Somalia is the third example of the United States creating a
potentially anti–U.S. Islamist threat where none previously
existed. The U.S.–supported Ethiopian invasion weakened the
Somali Islamists, but they are still fighting fiercely for
control of Mogadishu, the capital.
Like those in Iraq, all the Somali Islamists have to do is hang
on until the foreign occupier gets exhausted and leaves. When
that happens, the Islamists could very well become the dominant
political force in the country, capitalizing on their
“patriotic” resistance to the hated Ethiopian occupiers and
their U.S. benefactors.
The U.S.–backed Ethiopians, already unpopular, have become even
more despised as a result of their alleged indiscriminate
shelling of Mogadishu’s civilian areas, which human rights
groups are calling a war crime.
Unlike the period when the Islamists controlled Mogadishu, the
transitional government has been unable to keep order,
undermining both its credibility and public support. As a
result, many in Somalia see the period of Islamic rule as good
days, and now long for its return.
And that’s probably what will happen. Like the resurgent Taliban
in Afghanistan, whose recent good fortunes were brought about by
continued foreign occupation of that country, we will likely see
the Somali Islamists make a comeback.
U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia should teach
foreign policy experts and the American public that U.S.
meddling abroad is often counterproductive and dangerous.
Yet the U.S. media help the U.S. government disguise these
policy failures by failing to expose the underlying causes of
violence, enabling the U.S. government to make the same mistakes
over and over again.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at
The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The
Independent Review. Dr. Eland has been Director of Defense
Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst
at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge
(national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General
Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign
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